CAREFREE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Bob Jenkins has memories seared into his brain from Sept. 11, 2001. He was inside the World Trade Center during the worst terror attack in history.
“It was crystal clear. It was a beautiful, dry, cool fall day,” he told a crowd at the Carefree Town Council chambers Wednesday evening.
Jenkins, then a salesman for a video teleconferencing company, was in New York to make a sale to Lehman Brothers. He remembers clearly how his meeting on the 39th floor of the north tower began.
"I said, 'Okay guys, the reason we're here is we're here to discuss…' and the word 'video' got about 8 inches out of my mouth when, what everybody in the world saw was the plane hit the first building," he recalled. "Everything stopped. Time froze. And the look on the other guys' faces across the table from me – everybody was in shock."
He shared the unforgettable details about the force of the impact, which literally sent the building rocking back and forth. Walking was like trying to walk on Jell-O.
"Desks were moving. Chairs were moving. Computers were falling off chairs, tables, what have you. And it was pretty much pandemonium," he said.
As a Marine veteran, he was trained to remain calm, even though everyone else in his meeting had already run out of the room. He gathered himself and his mind by looking out the window at the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. He noticed how beautiful the city looked from his vantage point.
"I smiled. And I said, 'So this is where you die.' Because I knew the building was gonna topple over," he said.
But he was able to make it into the stairwell, which was so packed with people and smoke that they were only moving about one flight per minute.
"All you saw was people holding things over their faces to try and breathe," he said.
Worried everyone would suffocate, Jenkins ducked into an office on a random floor to catch a breath of clean air. But he knew he had a choice to make – stay and breathe clean air, or plunge back into the smoke to try to escape.
Though he's not very religious, Jenkins describes what happened next as divine intervention.
"My hand involuntarily let go of that [door] handle. And I was like, 'I hope I made the right decision.'"
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As he continued down the stairs, he said people were mostly quiet. He saw two men in suits running up the stairs against traffic. As they passed him, he saw that they were a chief and a lieutenant with FDNY. Jenkins says both of those men died that day.
At that point, everyone still thought the fire was caused by an explosion in a mechanical room on the 42nd floor. They had no idea an airplane was involved at all, though Jenkins wondered why he smelled jet fuel.
Because he made it out alive, many people tell him he's a lucky guy. Jenkins says anyone who's ever been to New York, and anyone who's ever been on a plane is just as lucky that they weren't there on that particular day.
"It's not something that happened. We were attacked. Three thousand people died that day," he said. "It's too important, and I truly think that people shouldn't forget."